Alex Salmond was last night embroiled in a “fake news” row following the broadcast of his inaugural chat show on the Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT.
As controversy mounted over the former first minister’s decision to screen the Alex Salmond Show on RT, doubts were cast on the authenticity of tweets he read out on the programme. Mr Salmond was subjected to a barrage of criticism at Holyrood yesterday, with opponents claiming he had damaged Scotland’s international reputation by appearing on the channel associated with Russian propaganda.
The first episode saw appearances from the Labour peer Baroness Helena Kennedy, the Tory MP Crispin Blunt and the star attraction – deposed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont.
Introducing a “really important part of the show” which enabled him to interact with the public, Mr Salmond claimed the programme had received an “avalanche” of tweets.
He then said he had received a tweet from @ellalorenR who wanted to know why he was appearing on RT. However a search of Twitter revealed that there was no account of that name.
His next tweet was from Adam Roberts (@admrobrts), who wanted to know what Slainte meant. Mr Salmond’s production company is called Slainte Media.
Mr Salmond explained it meant good health. But afterwards a twitter search revealed that Adam Roberts’s tweet was not posted until 11:08am yesterday, three and a half hours after show was screened at 7:30am.
A tweet from @thegodfather12 purported to ask Mr Salmond if he would stop Brexit if he were prime minister. Mr Salmond said that he “certainly would”. But a search of Twitter revealed that @thegodfather12 account, apparently belonging to a Kevin Manji, had never tweeted.
A tweet from @lastjohn asked Mr Salmond if he would be getting President Donald Trump on his show. It later emerged that @lastjohn was the private twitter account of a Luisa St John, an RT director mentioned on the show’s credits as series director.
Scottish Conservative deputy leader Jackson Carlaw said it appeared that “online reaction to Mr Salmond may even have come from Russia’s ‘fake news’ unit”.
“For a former first minister to be reduced to a pawn in Russia’s propaganda war is utterly shameful, and damaging to Scotland’s reputation,” Mr Carlaw said.
Mr Carlaw also criticised Mr Salmond for the section that saw him interview Mr Puigdemont.
“The former first minister devoted a large part of his programme to bolstering the case for the break-up of Spain, one of Nato’s leading players, while saying nothing about state brutality in Russia. The Russian regime will be delighted with their investment in Mr Salmond already,” he said.
Mr Salmond’s association with RT came up at First Minister’s Questions. Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie noted that the Estonian ambassador to the UK Tina Intelmann had earlier described RT as “a Kremlin arm of propaganda” when appearing at Holyrood’s Europe committee.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said the former first minister’s choice of RT for his latest venture “should turn our stomach”.
Mr Rennie questioned whether Mr Salmond, who is seeking to become chairman of the newspaper group Johnston Press, was a “fit and proper person” to own newspapers.
He said: “Newspaper regulation is devolved… so it’s reasonable to ask whether Alex Salmond would be a fit and proper person to own The Scotsman when he is being paid by President Putin’s propaganda channel. We should remember, this is the TV channel that seeks to undermine western democracy and ignore human rights abuses at home.
“It should turn our stomach that a former first minister of this country is giving it credibility and legitimacy by launching this show this very day. Scotland’s reputation abroad has been damaged. Countries, small countries, particularly along the Russian border, will be deeply concerned by this decision. Alex Salmond does not speak for Scotland on this.
“So what is this government doing to actively distance themselves from Alex Salmond?”
Standing in for Nicola Sturgeon, Deputy First Minister John Swinney said the First Minister had made clear RT would not have been her channel of choice.
He said: “I understand, although I’ve not seen it myself, that on the programme that has been broadcast today Mr Salmond had guests from both the Labour party and the Conservative party on his programme. So I suspect that reflects the plurality of choice that will be in his guests.”
Pointing out that UK Lib Dem leader Vince Cable had appeared on RT in 2015, he added: “This is an issue that Alex Salmond, who is not currently an elected politician, is free to take forward as he wishes. But I think what is also fair for me to say in all of this is that the whole debate has been struck by a stinking reek of hypocrisy from every other political party.”
A spokesperson for Slàinte Media said: “1) The twitter handle @ellalaurenR was transcribed as @ellalorenR in the studio cards. It was a simple two-letter transcription error and is obviously the real account of a real person. A time and dated screen grab is provided as proof.
“2) The Slàinte question came directly to us enclosing his twitter handle which we used. When the gentleman concerned saw his question broadcast he then tweeted it.
“3) The use of the account ‘@TheGodfather12’ was requested by the questioner presumably to protect his anonymity. We respected that.
“4) Yes, one of the directors of the show is Luisa St John. Her question was actually used for the filmed rehearsal and left in the final programme cut in a simple error. However, she is a real person with a real twitter account.
“All of this would be inconsequential nonsense if it were not for the suggestion by one newspaper outlet that this represents ‘fake news’.
“Although they have now removed it from their story, it remained in place for a number of hours. That suggestion is clearly untrue and defamatory and consequences inevitably follow from suggesting it without retraction.”